Saturday, September 5, 2009

Interview with Doreen Mashika

Ciaafrique catched up with accessory designers a few days ago and asked a few questions about her work and her journey as designer.

Ciaa: Hi Doreen thank you so much for your time.Tell us a bit about yourself
Doreen:I was born and raised in Tanzania and form a growing part of a homeward bound African diaspora. I studied and worked in the Financial Industry in Switzerland in the division of Luxury Goods Fund Management. I am now based in Tanzania in the Zanzibari capital, Stone Town.
Ciaa:How did you get into designing? And why shoes, handbags and accessories ?
Doreen:I have always been a follower of fashion, and worked in the industry part-time while I was a student. Then later, working in the finance sector in the division of luxury goods, I was exposed to the creative processes of the World’s top designers – Tods, Gucci, Burberrys – and gained a behind-the-scene appreciation of what drives the luxury
goods market, the essence of its global allure and its cultural power
of influence. Coming back home to Tanzania, having time away from familiarity and everything I’d previously taken for granted, I realized just how much wealth Africa possesses in terms of inspiration and materials.

Ciaa:…..And why shoes, handbags and accessories ?
Doreen:Apart from the likelihood of footwear being the leading and most utilised accessory when cross-gender utility is considered, shoes, in my view offer a unique template for the expression of design versatility. Further to creative Kanga and Kitenge products, of which there has traditionally been a relative abundance in the marketplace, accessories such as the ones I make permit me a greater display of the unconventional use of exotic and traditional signature materials and prints, perhaps not any where seen, and especially particular to the Tanzanian culture.

Ciaa:How would you describe your own personal style?
Doreen:It’s the very -world travelers look- For example. When I am in Masaai land I would be in glass beads. I have to wear less though because the my masaai ladies always have a surprise gift for me to wear when I visit them during production,but again if you would spot me Stone Town I would be in my Swahili vintage look and in New York, London or Capetown it would be something else.

Ciaa:What is the most interesting aspect of your job? And the worst?
Doreen:Its very interesting exchanging the know and how with the masaai women who do all my bead work and at times it has become challenging to translate a traditional design into modernity
What is also interesting is meeting or getting feedback from consumers. Of recent I have had frequent visits from famous actors or actresses from Hollywood visiting Zanzibar who would just walk into my store and instantly fall in love with my work or at times, I would get emails from big fashion houses (cannot reveal sorry) who would want to see my works when visiting Zanzibar. Having said that there are worse situations I have in my work such as social issues ie. attending a funeral of a worker. Most of the women and men who work for me live with HIV so this really hampers production.
Ciaa:What is the fashion mood in Tanzania?
Doreen:Tanzanias fashion hasnt been about flashy consumerism – flaunting your wealth perhaps something at times seen in other parts of Africa. Instead it is about quality and luxury, exquisite craftsmanship and tailoring for the older generation, and about shape, colour and exuberance for the younger generation.

Ciaa:Do you make every piece of your designs or you have other people that helps you as well ?
Doreen:Depending on which part of production, but lets say I am involved everywhere during the design process and it is until we get it right when i commence involving others. So I am the designer to quality control manager.

Ciaa:What kind of woman wears your designs?
Doreen:My target demographic is any working and fashion conscious woman. This is not in exclusion to tourists looking to take the impressions of modern day Tanzania back with them and indeed in the days ahead a greater expansion to cater for men
Ciaa:As you can tell by this blog I am are trying let the world know that Africa does have a lot of talents. what is your take on the way the African fashion is doing now ?
Doreen:Indeed there is a lot of talents amongst many African designers. More and more are discovering an increasing fan-base and market segment that is Africa based, both indigenous and or naturalized, that both appreciates and celebrates their creativity and craft. And since the lucrative business models once the preserve of Western arenas are presently equally viable at home. More of Africa's talents are increasingly harvested at home which means that African fashion is here to stay.
Ciaa:What does the word “Africa” means to you?
Doreen:Depending from which angle one is thinking from but when it comes to fashion then Africa means, Colourful, charming and very inspirational
Ciaa:If you could change one thing in Africa today what will it be?
Doreen:Bureaucracy. There is just too much of it.

Ciaa:Any plans on expending in other African countries or even in the western world?
Doreen:I must say, I’m really happy with how far the label has come, as it has, from mainland
 Tanzania to the spice Island of Zanzibar and I look forward to its intelligent progression further afield in response to the keen interest I am receiving world-wide. And as I return home from promotional trips in New York, London, Johannesburg and Capetown, I would want the bevy of women weaving the glass beads for the label's products to be as excited to see me each year as the customers who will ultimately wear them And, having been delighted at the terrific response to our shoes, bags and jewellery here in Tanzania, and especially in my own recently opened Doreen Mashika retail outlet in Zanzibar, we are now coming up with an exciting range of unique clothing which was launched at FAFA – Festival for African Fashion and Arts this April – in Nairobi.
Ciaa:What kind advice would give Ciaafrique readers wishing to follow your footsteps?
Doreen:Take pride in the riches your continent has to offer you as a designer – the patterns, colours, techniques, fabrics – offer all the inspiration you could need - but don’t shy away from international trends. And remember, gossip columnists, dedicated fashion bloggers and
 societal fashion critics are merely the vehicles of expression of their
 immediate contact point's, thoughts and sentiments...if their word seems to be a fashion certainty, it's probably because they are getting their inspiration from the immediate input sources that surround them. So keep your eyes open to everything around you: perfect that skill and you will build a formidable fashion sense of your own. This more often, than capital, will be the long-stay of your fashion design success.

Ciaa:Sorry to be a little personal here, but what is the one thing you like about yourself?
Doreen:I am quite flexible. For example you could put me in the bush in a mud hut and would still manage to be working on my designs behind my laptop, of course so as long as I am connected to electricity.
Ciaa:What is your dream for your career?
I always believe that nothing is impossible and one can work to get that dream come true. I’m must say, I’m really excited that i didn’t have to wait long into that dream before I made it happen! The Doreen Mashika brand is the result.

Ciaa: Where can our readers reach you to purchase your designs?
Doreen:My works can be purchased in my own recently opened Doreen Mashika retail outlet in Zanzibar, we are now coming up with an exciting range of unique clothing which was launched at FAFA – Festival for African Fashion and Arts this April – in Nairobi. In South Africa you can purchase Doreen Mashika works at African Mosaiq, 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark Johannesburg and in Kenya you may the label is available in Nairobi at Magic Grace at the village market and I am very happy to announce that soon you will be able to buy my works online. So keep an eye on

Ciaa: Any last word
Doreen:Tanzanian fashion is feelgood fashion, and it’s here to stay.

Ciaa:Thank you very much for taking your time to do this interview , I hope to see you soon on the biggest fashion runways soon
Doreen:Thanks for having me


  1. That is beautiful ! <3 <3 Surtout le sac x)

  2. Great design! You may be interested in our necklaces of old African and Murano glass. They can be seen at

  3. Just read Doreen Mashika's interview and i absolutely love every line! The interview is inspirational! And a great testimony for the talent in the continent.
    Congratulations to Doreen and thank you Assa this one!
    F a t i m a t a Ly

  4. It is great that Doreen supports small women vendors to source her fabrics, but this does not justify lousy customer service, or overpricing poor quality products. Fortunate for the designer brand, Doreen Mashika boutique is located in the heart of Stonetown Zanzibar, where many of the wealthier tourists can afford to spend money on souvenirs. When these visitors return home, their 150$ Kanga dress is guaranteed to disintegrate due to poor craftsmanship and cheap threads. Customer care is an important aspect of the fashion industry and it is disappointing to see a Tanzanian designer failing to do ethical and undiscriminating business. Doreen Mashika may ruin the reputation of emerging Tanzanian designers and artists who take pride in doing ethical business through respecting their customers and offering quality products.

    Have you seen Chichia London?
    Now this is progressive Tanzanian fashion.. the first phase of caring for your customers is through offering us a dynamic website where we can discover your style and talk about it...


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